Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents
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Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents. Sucheta Connolly M.D. Director, UIC Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic. Normal Fears and Worries. Infants: fear of loud noises, strangers Toddlers: fear of the dark, monsters, separation from parents

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Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents

Sucheta Connolly M.D.

Director, UIC Pediatric Stress and Anxiety Disorders Clinic

Normal fears and worries

Normal Fears and Worries

  • Infants: fear of loud noises, strangers

  • Toddlers: fear of the dark, monsters, separation from parents

  • School-age: physical injury, storms, school

  • Teenagers: social evaluation and school performance

Common stressors

Common Stressors

  • Divorce

  • Family move or friend moves away

  • Loss of pet

  • Break up with girlfriend/boyfriend

  • Poor performance at school/test

  • Death of relative

  • Transition to middle school/high school

Signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety in youth

Signs and Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety in Youth

  • Recurrent fears and worries

  • Difficulty falling asleep or nightmares

  • Hard to relax

  • Difficulty separating from parents

  • Scared about going to school

  • Irritability, crying, tantrums

  • Uncomfortable in social situations at school, restaurants, parties

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents1

Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents

  • Very common: 8-10% of youth have at least one anxiety disorder

  • Runs in families (Genetics and modeling)

  • Co-occur with ADHD in children, and depression and substance abuse in teens

  • Can persist into adulthood

  • Treatments are available and effective: Cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication

  • Early identification and treatment can reduce severity and impairment in social and academic functioning

Separation anxiety disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive fear and distress when separated from parents/primary caregivers or home

  • Worry about parents’ health and safety

  • Difficulty sleeping without parents

  • Difficulty alone in another part of the house

  • Complain of stomachaches and headaches

  • May refuse to go to school or playdates

Generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive, chronic worry related to school, making friends, health and safety of self and family, future events, local and world events

  • Also has at least one of these symptoms: motor/muscle tension, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritability, poor concentration

  • Often perfectionists

  • Anxiety may be significant, but not apparent to others

  • Physical complaints are common

Gad additional features

GAD: Additional features

  • Excessive self-consciousness, frequent reassurance-seeking , worry about negative consequences

  • Perfectionistic, excessively critical of themselves, persistent worries

  • Common somatic complaints: GI distress, headaches, frequent urination, sweating, tremor

Social phobia social anxiety disorder

Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

  • Excessive fear or discomfort in social or performance situations

  • Extreme fear of negative evaluation by others

  • Worry about doing something embarrassing in settings such as classrooms, restaurants, sports, musical or speech performance

  • Difficulty participating in class, working in groups, attending gym, using public rest rooms, eating in front of others, starting conversations, making new friends, talking on the phone, having picture taken

Social phobia

Social Phobia

  • Commonly feared social situations:

    Public performances (reading aloud in front of class, music/athletic performances),

    Ordinary social situations (starting or joining conversations, speaking to adults)

    Ordering food at restaurants, attending dances and parties, takings tests, working or playing with other children, asking teacher for help (Beidel et al. 1999)

  • Diminished social skills, longer speech latencies, fewer or no friends, limited activities, school refusal (Beidel et al. 1999)

Selective mutism

Selective Mutism

  • Unable to speak in certain situations (school) despite able to speak in other settings (home)

  • Difficulty speaking, laughing, reading aloud, singing aloud in front of people outside the family or their “safe zone”

  • Speech/language development normal, but may have some speech/language difficulties

  • Parents or siblings often speak for the child

  • Often have symptoms of social phobia as well

Selective mutism1

Selective Mutism

  • Transient mutism during transitional periods: first month of school or move to a new home

  • Relationship between SM and Social Phobia

  • Associated features: excessive shyness, fear of social embarrassment, social isolation, clinging, compulsive traits, negativism, temper tantrums, controlling or oppositional behavior, particularly at home

Specific phobia

Specific Phobia

  • Excessive fear of a particular object or situation

  • May avoid the feared object or situation

  • If a fear is severe enough to impair a child’s functioning, then it is a phobia

  • Common phobias: animals/insects, heights, storms, water, darkness, blood, shots, traveling by car/bus/plane, elevators, loud noises, costumed characters, doctor or dentists, vomiting, choking, catching a disease

Specific phobia1

Specific Phobia

  • Anxiety may be expressed through crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging

  • Three factors:

    Animal phobias: tachycardia (sympathetic activation)

    Blood-injection-injury phobias: bradycardia (parasympathetic activation)

    Environmental or situational phobias: cognitive symtpoms such as fear of going crazy or misinterpretation of body symptoms

Panic disorder

Panic Disorder

  • Recurrent panic attacks or intense fear: racing heart, sweating, shaking, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness, chills/flushes, numbness/tingling, fear of dying/going crazy

  • Eventually child feels frightened “out of the blue” or for no reason at all

  • Can lead to avoidance of situations due to fears of having a panic attack

Panic disorder1

Panic Disorder

  • Full panic disorder best documented in adolescents

  • Panic attacks in younger children are usually cued or triggered by specific event of stressor, with out-of-blue attacks rare

Differentiating the specific childhood anxiety disorders

Differentiating the Specific Childhood Anxiety Disorders

GAD and Social phobia

  • Worries of GAD is pervasive, and not limited to specific object (Specific phobia) or social situations (Social phobia)

  • GAD anxiety is persistent, Social phobia anxiety dissipates upon avoidance or escape of social situation

  • Worries about quality of relationship with GAD versus embarrassment and social evaluation fears with Social phobia

Differentiating anxiety disorders clinical points

Differentiating Anxiety Disorders: Clinical Points

  • Cued panic attacks can occur with any of the anxiety disorders in youth, and common among adolescents

  • Irritability and angry outbursts may be misunderstood as oppositionality or disobedience

  • Tantrums, crying, stomachaches, headaches common in children with anxiety

  • Children (versus adults) may not see fear as unreasonable

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Obsessions: Scary, bad, unwanted or upsetting thoughts, impulses, or pictures that keep coming back over and over

  • Examples of obsessions: Aggressive obsessions, contamination, doubting, nonsensical thoughts, hoarding/saving, religious, symmetry/exactness, violent thoughts/images, thoughts about sex, thoughts of death/dying

  • Child tries to ignore or suppress the thoughts, impulses, or images

Obsessive compulsive disorder1

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Compulsions: repetitive behaviors or mental acts (praying, counting, repeating words/numbers silently) that the child feels compelled to do in order to stop discomfort/anxiety of obsessions

  • Examples: Cleaning/washing, checking, counting, hoarding/collecting, repeating words/numbers silently, ordering/arranging, praying, seek reassurance, touching/tapping, “tell on yourself”, “just right”

  • Persistent obsessions, compulsions, or both that occupy more than 1 hour each day

  • Repetitive and difficult to control

Postulated infectious autoimmune etiology

Postulated Infectious/Autoimmune Etiology

  • Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep. = PANDAS

  • Pediatric Infection-Triggered Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders = PITANDs

Pitands pandas pathophysiology

PITANDs (PANDAS) Pathophysiology

Infection (group A beta-hemolytic strep.)

Immune Response

(antibodies produced)

Reversible (?) Lesion of Basal Ganglia

OCD and/or tics

Treatment planning for childhood anxiety disorders

Treatment Planning for Childhood Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

Treatment Planning

Age, severity, impairment, and comorbidity

  • Mild severity: Consider CBT first

  • Mod-severe: Medications considered for acute relief of anxiety, partial response from other treatment, comorbid disorders that may benefit from meds and multimodal approach

  • Severe: Combination intensive treatments with CBT and medications may be necessary

  • Older youth, depression, and social withdrawal often need intensive treatment

  • Involve child and family in treatment planning

Treatment planning continued

Treatment Planning Continued

If Parental Anxiety Disorders Present:

  • Teach parents anxiety reduction skills

  • Consider if independent treatment of parental anxiety disorders needed (meds, therapy)

  • Consider additional parental involvement with younger child

  • Older youth - depression, social withdrawal, substance abuse often need intensive focus

Child adolescent anxiety multimodal study cams walkup et al n eng j med 2008

Child-Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS)(Walkup, et al.: N Eng J Med, 2008)

  • 488 children (7-17y):SAD, GAD, Social Phobia

  • 14 sessions of CBT, sertraline to 200mg/day, combination CBT and sert, or 12 weeks of placebo.

  • Very much or much improved on CGI-Improvement scale: 81% combination, 60% CBT, 55% sertraline, 24% placebo

  • Both CBT and sertraline reduced severity of anxiety in children with anxiety disorders, combination had superior response rate

Cams study

CAMS Study

  • No increased frequency of physical, psychiatric, or harm-related adverse events in sertraline vs. placebo groups

  • Suicidal or homicidal ideation was uncommon, no child attempted suicide

  • Youth with ADHD were included. Youth with depression or PDD were excluded

  • Combination therapy offers best chance for positive outcome: consider family preference, cost, treatment availability.

  • Placebo for sertraline only group, not for sertraline plus CBT group.

Cbt and beyond

CBT and Beyond

Standard CBT

Social skills training

Assertiveness skills


Working with parents and schools

Cbt model of anxiety anxiety s three components

CBT Model of Anxiety:Anxiety’s Three Components

  • Cognitive:

  • Physiological:

  • Behavioral:




Social phobia1

Social Phobia


Fears of being the focus of attention and embarrassing self

Increased heart rate, shaking, sweating, hyperventilation, dizziness

Avoidance of feared social situations, pseudomaturity, school refusal



Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

CBT Principles for Anxiety

(Albano & Kendall, 2002)

  • Psychoeducation (about anxiety and CBT)

  • Somatic management skills training (self-monitor anxiety and learn muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, imagery)

  • Cognitive awareness and restructuring

    (identify and challenge negative thoughts and expectations; positive self-talk; )

  • Exposure methods (imaginal and live exposures with gradual desensitization)

  • Relapse prevention and booster sessions

  • Coordinate with parents and school

Treatment of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents

  • Psychoeducation with the child and parents about the illness and principles of CBT

  • Parent training to establish daily structure, expectations, positive reinforcement, monitoring of symptoms and progress

  • Involve parents in treatment, especially for children and when parental anxiety present

  • Consider independent treatment of anxiety disorders in parents

  • Coordinate treatment with school

Cbt for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

CBT for Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents

  • Consider age and developmental stage of child

  • For younger children using positive reinforcement chart and frequent rewards for efforts is very important. Exposures increase anxiety and children need motivation to try.

  • For younger children use of pictures, cartoons, puppets, and toys to supplement standard CBT is helpful.

Establish target symptoms

Establish Target Symptoms

  • Learn to identify feelings in self & others (feelings barometer)

  • Establish level of distress

    (feelings thermometer)

  • Develop Ladder of stimuli or triggers (situations, objects, cues, sensations) within primary diagnosis

Somatic management skills training

Somatic Management Skills Training

Diaphragmatic breathing

Muscle relaxation


Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive Restructuring

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Challenge Negative Expectations

Positive Self-Talk

Cognitive distortions

Cognitive Distortions

Youth with anxiety disorders:

  • Assume bad things will happen

  • Biased attention to threatening words and criticism

  • Interpret ambiguous situations as threatening

  • More negative self-talk

  • Underestimate their strengths

  • Assume they cannot handle stressful situations

  • Catastrophic thinking: Assume the worst

Cognitive restructuring goals

Cognitive Restructuring: Goals

  • Identify negative thoughts that predict bad things will happen- thinking traps

  • Evaluate negative thoughts to determine if they make sense

  • Use realistic positive self-talk to argue with negative thoughts and boss them back.

  • Replace thinking traps with coping thoughts

Cognitive restructuring1

Cognitive Restructuring

  • Use similar strategies to come up with alternatives to negative thoughts or misperceptions that result in angry feelings

  • Boss back aggressive urges

  • Practice alternatives to assuming someone will violate you, hurt you, criticize you, misunderstand you



Imaginal Exposures


Live Exposures



  • Graded so child can experience success and build confidence (not flooding)

  • Explain that discomfort is part of exposure

  • Begin with relaxation exercise to start with anxiety at low level

  • Review coping strategies

  • Establish reward system

  • Move from easiest to most challenging items on Fear Ladder

  • Therapist should avoid too much reassurance during exposure

Graded imaginal exposure

Graded Imaginal Exposure

  • Child imagines item or situation from Fear Ladder/Hierarchy in detail

  • Begin with easy items to more challenging

  • Child notes intensity on Fear Thermometer

  • Bring anxiety to 2 or below before next item

  • Ask: Did anything terrible happen?

  • Praise often. Reward for efforts & successes

  • Incorporate relaxation and self-talk learned to reduce anxiety

  • Adjust frequency, intensity of sessions based on success

Other applications for exposures

Other Applications for Exposures

  • Imaginal exposure and role-plays can be used for a range of behaviors

  • This may allow child to identify feelings and thoughts that pop out in certain situations that make them angry, sad, scared

  • Gives opportunity to practice new coping strategies and behaviors

  • Be sure to praise for just trying exposures (imaginary or real)

Treatment for social phobia and panic disorder

Treatment for Social Phobia and Panic Disorder

  • Successful treatment of Social Phobia and Selective Mutism requires CBT discussed and additional Social Skills Training

  • Treatment of Panic Disorder Often requires medications (SSRI’s, other antidepressants first-line)

  • CBT for treatment of Panic disorder Interoceptive exposure. Relaxation training, experiencing physical symptoms in sessions, and overcoming sense of panic/doom. Decrease avoidance & increase control.

Treatment for selective mutism

Treatment for Selective Mutism

  • Most children with SM have Social phobia

  • Often need CBT and social skills training

  • Severity often warrants medication (SSRIs)

  • Management team with parents and teacher monitoring child’s communication

  • Positive reinforcement for attempts on graded exposure ladder

  • Steps to speaking outside “comfort zone”: Relaxed nonverbal communication, mouthing, speaking to parent, whispering to peers

  • Discourage others from speaking for the child

  • Videotaped modeling

Cbt modifications for sm

CBT Modifications for SM

  • Team approach with school involved regularly

  • Conversational visits

  • Verbal intermediary (parent, friend, doll, toy puppet, recording device) that makes more comfortable in trying to speak/communicate. Does not speak for child.

  • Positive reinforcement frequently

  • Reinforce for nonverbal as well as verbal responses

  • SM child can enlist strong negative response in adults (labeled as “refusing to talk”)

  • Parents and siblings need to resist desire to speak for child

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

School Refusal


Can be variety of fears (separation, social anxiety, test anxiety)

Worry, tension, increased heart rate, shaking, sweating

Frequent absence, tardiness, tears, tantrums, somatic complaints, visits to school nurse



Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

School Refusal/School Phobia

  • This is a behavior cluster, not a diagnosis

  • Need to consider anxiety disorders and depression

  • Consider SAD, GAD, Social phobia

  • Need to rule out learning disability that can lead to frustrations, poor performance, low self-esteem. Increased risk for anxiety and depression. Dyslexia in young children.

  • More common during transitions to a new school (pre-school, KG, middle school, high school)

  • Assist parents to reduce secondary gains

Interventions for school refusal

Interventions for School Refusal

  • Rule out LD and language impairments

  • If depression and anxiety present, CBT and meds often needed

  • Assist parents and school staff to maintain patient in school. Avoid home-bound school

  • Use library or other area to calm or complete work part of day, build up in class time

  • Graded exposures to school situations

  • Active ignoring of unreasonable somatic complaints and reward regular attendance

  • Use relaxation and coping strategies to reduce anxiety at school. Coaches at school too.

School refusal fear exp ladder

School Refusal: Fear/Exp Ladder

  • Be careful not to start exposures close to vacations or holidays

  • Initially work on preparing for going to school (depending on severity of fears) with live and imaginal exposures (driving past school, walking on school grounds, entering school)

  • Increasing time at school, not necessarily in classroom

  • Start with most comfortable setting/activity in classroom

  • Work up to part of day and eventually full day

  • Set up rewards for each step

Treatment of youth with ocd

Treatment of Youth with OCD

Multimodal Approach

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

Treatment of Youth with OCD

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in conjunction with medications (SSRI’s)

  • Exposure and Response Prevention (E/RP) Develop fear hierarchy, expose to phobic stimuli and repress rituals or avoidance

  • Family therapy can help decrease the parents’ involvement in the child’s rituals and reinforcing behavior-based interventions

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) and Clomipramine (TCA and SSRI) are effective

Boy with ocd

Boy with OCD

  • 11 year boy with OCD

  • Intrusive sexual thoughts/fears.

  • Doubting: Reassurance seeking “Is this right? Am I OK?” Fears of upsetting and harming others.

  • Underwear and pants have to fit “just right”. Mother has to take in all waists. Nothing can be loose fitting

  • Perfectionism: Erasing, rewriting drawings, work to make it “right”. Takes lots of time. Cannot be rushed to complete things.

  • Fears of upsetting God and others: apologizing, “I’m sorry”, Sign of the cross

How i ran ocd off my land j march md mph march manual

How I Ran OCD Off My Land (J. March MD, MPH: March Manual)

  • Psychoeducation with OCD as medical illness and engage child and family in treatment

  • Define OCD as the problem: nasty nickname with plans to “boss back” OCD with therapist

  • Story about OCD in child’s life: over time authors OCD out of his/her life

  • Map child’s OCD: obsessions, compulsions, triggers, avoidance behaviors, consequences

  • Anxiety management training

  • Exposure and response prevention (E/RP) using transition zone where some success in resisting OCD (diagram)

Cbt for ocd adaptations for young child

CBT for OCD: Adaptations for Young Child

  • OCD Storybook (with farm animals and OC Flea)

  • Positive reinforcement program

  • Readjust hierarchy to achieve success with little steps in exposures if needed.

  • For young children can do imaginal exposures using puppets, toys, cartoons to practicing “bossing back” OCD

  • Can adopt characteristics from superheroes that help child to defeat OCD

  • Watch OCD shrink in size, make this concrete for young children in various ways

  • OCD monster and worry monster are similar

Ocd exposure fear ladder

OCD Exposure/Fear Ladder

  • Holding doorknob (exposure) and not washing hands (response prevention)

  • Moving items around in room (E) and not reorganizing before leaving the house (RP)

  • Complete homework assignment without rechecking several times

  • Wear socks to school that are not perfectly matching

  • Arrive late to school or event and still participate

  • Imaginal exposures for obsessions not associated with compulsions

Social skills meeting and greeting new people

Social Skills:Meeting and Greeting New People

  • Having a conversation: taking turns asking, telling, saying something and listening

  • Role-play situations with child or teenager

  • Practice with a friend and new children

  • Coordinate with school staff (lunch group)

  • Involve parents in sessions in younger child

Social skills nonverbal communication

Social Skills: Nonverbal Communication

  • Importance of nonverbal communication and improving conversation skills

  • Personal space

  • Eye contact

  • Speaking voice (volume)

  • Involve parents in sessions for younger child

Assertiveness training

Assertiveness Training

  • Many anxious children work hard to always please others and avoid conflicts

  • May fear something bad will happen if they upset others or just discomfort

  • More likely to be bullied

  • Child works on identifying own needs and negotiating these with children and adults

  • Review assertiveness strategies, role-play in session, then carry out exposures

  • Can use toys, puppets with young children to practice. Involve parents in sessions.

  • Use relaxation, coping strategies and fear ratings during role-play

Assertiveness training example

Assertiveness Training: Example

  • 6 y.o. girl with GAD, SAD, Turner’s & small stature.

    Often picked up by other children and girls fight over her not allowing her to play with other peers. Sometimes children hold her down. Led to school phobia. She fears other children will be punished if she tells.

  • Practiced using loud voice, mean face and posture in session. Role-play with peers who are pushy and demand her to listen.

  • Practiced turning on “drama” when child annoying her and will not accept no to get teacher’s attention

  • Coordinated plan with school regarding practicing assertiveness and monitoring of bullying by teacher in classroom and especially at recess.

  • Patient has benefited greatly from CBT, low dose SSRI.

Working with parents and schools

Working with Parents and Schools

Active Ignoring


Involving Parents in CBT with child

Working with Schools

Family treatment

Working with parents and teachers active ignoring

Working with Parents and Teachers: Active Ignoring

  • Active reinforcement of positive behaviors

  • Active ignoring of unwanted behavior to extinguish (complaining, reassurance-seeking, crying, whining, somatic complaints)

  • Role-play with parents, discuss with teachers

  • Temporary increase in problem behavior, does not mean they should give in

  • Reduces children depending on adults rather than trying new coping skills

Working with parents and teachers rewards

Working with Parents and Teachers: Rewards

  • Child chooses meaningful rewards

  • Small, inexpensive, or preferred activity

  • Reinforcement after desired behavior (trying not just successes)

  • Short list of desired behaviors (fear ladder)

  • Substitute new behaviors as mastered

  • Timely, consistent rewarding

  • Coordinate reward system between home & school

  • Post in visible location at home; teacher keeps in desk at school

  • Child learns self-praise over time

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

Involving Parents in Treatment

  • Parents with anxiety disorders can benefit from anxiety management skills/treatment and can improve effectiveness of CBT in child

  • Parents may be overprotective, controlling, or facilitate avoidant responses

  • Parents included in child’s treatment as “coaches” to assist child in coping with current and future anxiety issues

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

Parent Involvement

  • Learn how to handle child’s anxiety

  • Learn graduated exposure and how to use it

  • Modify view of child as vulnerable and in need of protection or control

  • See child as resilient and capable of coping

  • Help parent to feel knowledgeable and skilled enough to help the child cope with future challenges

  • Involve all relevant caregivers to increase consistency of response to anxiety

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

Parent (Teacher) Involvement

  • Parents (teachers) can model calmness and problem-solving approaches

  • Find middle ground: encourage the child to approach feared situations and give child control over pace that is tolerable

  • Give prompts, but resist need to “rescue”

  • Focus on small, positive steps, build courage, competence, and autonomy for child

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

School Interventions for Anxiety

  • School personnel who child can meet with regularly and be available to help child calm

  • Discourage leaving school (fever or vomiting)

  • Encourage self-monitoring with Feelings Thermometer

  • Coping bag available if needed

  • Reinforce attempts to use relaxation/coping skills as well as successful coping

  • Desensitization program with graded exposure

  • Regular contact & coordination with parents

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

School Interventions for Students with Anxiety

  • Modified assignments

  • Comprehension checks

  • Identify adult at school outside classroom who can meet with child and engage in problem-solving or anxiety management strategies

  • School staff prompt child to use coping strategies prior to school triggers (tests, recess, starting assignment)

  • Testing in private, quiet place to reduce anxiety

  • Educate teacher about child’s anxiety and suggest strategies to facilitate child’s coping (reframe)

  • Children with anxiety disorders might qualify for a Section504 plan or special education if significant impact on school functioning (handout)

Family interventions

Family Interventions

  • Parental emotional overinvolvement

  • Parental criticism and control

  • Family communication

  • Impact of child anxiety on parent behavior

  • Integrative models (Dadds & Roth, 2001)

    Interaction between attachment and

    parent-child learning process,

    behavioral and temperamental characteristics

    of child and parent

  • Consider impact on siblings

Family interventions can

Family Interventions Can…

  • Address risk factors such as parental anxiety, insecure attachment, parenting styles.

  • Improve parent-child relationships

  • Strengthen family problem solving

  • Strengthen family communication skills

  • Foster parenting skills that encourage healthy coping and autonomy in anxious child

Medication treatment for childhood anxiety disorders

Medication Treatment for Childhood Anxiety Disorders

Medications for childhood anxiety disorders

Medications for Childhood Anxiety Disorders

  • SSRIs only medications well-supported by placebo-controlled studies: SAD, GAD, SoPh

  • Consider comorbid disorders

  • Consider family history of medication tx

  • Try several SSRI’s before alternative meds

  • No clear guidelines when more than one medication needed to manage anxiety

  • Initiate one medication at a time

  • Start low and go slow, monitor side effects closely

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors

Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

  • Randomized placebo-cont trials of SSRI’s short-term efficacy & safety for anxiety dx

  • Fluvoxamine - Social phobia, SAD, GAD

    (RUPP, 2001)

  • Fluoxetine - GAD, Social phobia, SM

    (Birmaher et al, 2003; Black and Uhde, 1994)

  • Sertraline – Social Phobia, SAD, GAD

    (Rynn et al, 2002 for GAD)

  • Paxil - Social phobia

    (Wagner et al, 2004)

    Panic disorder - small open label and chart review with SSRIs showed improvement

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents

SSRI’s for Anxiety Disorders

  • Side effects: stomachache, increased activity level, insomnia, agitation/disinhibition at higher doses

  • Less often diarrhea, headaches, tics, cramps/twitching, hypomania, sexual side effects. Ask patient to wear sunscreen.

  • Start at a low dose and increase slowly based on treatment response and side effects

  • Can increase dose one month

  • Can take several weeks to 2 months to see full effect (may see initial result quickly)

Ssri s for anxiety disorders

SSRI’s for Anxiety Disorders

  • Discuss black-box warning with family

  • Choice of SSRI: side effects, duration of action, pt compliance, positive response in relative

  • Assess somatic symptoms prior to initiating

  • May consider mediation free trial after stability for 1 year, during low-stress period, with monitoring for relapse (Pine, 2002)

Ssris side effects by age

SSRIs: Side Effects by Age

  • Activation and vomiting more in children versus adolescents (Safer & Zito 2006)

  • Children (especially females) with higher exposure to Fluvoxamine at similar doses

  • Behavioral disinhibition noted in some SM med studies with younger children (Carlson et al 1999; Sharkey & McNicholas 2006)

Ssris in young children

SSRIs in Young Children

  • Start very low in young children and go slow to reduce side effects and increase tolerance to initial and temporary side effects

  • Fluoxetine liquid 20mg/5ml can start at 0.5-2.0 mg/day

  • Sertraline liquid 20mg/1ml can start at 2.5-5mg/day

  • Monitor for activation, behavioral disinhibition along with other side effects

Ssris for selective mutism

SSRIs for Selective Mutism

  • 12 week placebo- controlled study for Fluoxetine mean dose of 0.6mg/kg (Black and Uhde, 1994)

    6 children, ages 6-14, with SM and Social Phobia

    Improved significantly on parent and teacher rating relative to placebo but still with SM symptoms (with minimal side effects)

  • Open trial of 21 children ages 5 to 14 with SM supports Fluoxetine in graduated doses. 76% improved in anxiety and speech, inversely correlated with age (Dummit et al., 1997)

  • Sertraline in 5 children with SM with low side effects, general benefits (Carlson et al., 1999)

  • Longer trials with more individual dosing needed

Other antidepressants

Other Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants (SAD, Social phobia)

  • Conflicting results exc Clomipramine for OCD

  • Clomipramine (TCA & non-selective SRI) Can augment at low doses with SSRI. Requires cardiac monitoring, EKG, blood levels. Side effects can be significant: sedation, dizziness. OCD, ADHD, tics.

    Other Antidepressants (GAD, Social phobia)

  • Venlafaxine ( 2 placebo-cont studies w/XR: Rynn et al 2007; Tourian et al 2004 ) Noradrenergic and SSRI. Second line treatment as SSRI alternative or augment. Panic, ADHD.

Other medications for anxiety

Other Medications for Anxiety

Buspirone (GAD)

No published controlled studies.

  • Adverse side effects: lightheadedness, headache, dyspepsia.

  • Higher peak plasma levels in children vs adolescents. May be tolerated at 5-30mg in teens and 5-7.5mg in children, twice daily

  • May be an alternative to SSRIs for GAD in youth. Controlled studies needed.

  • May augment SSRIs.

Other medications for anxiety1

Other Medications for Anxiety


  • Clonazepam: benzo most used in youth

  • Small controlled studies did not show efficacy

  • Short-term use for school refusal, SAD, Panic disorder to supplement SSRI or allow acute participation in CBT(exposure)

  • Risks of dependence long-term, half-life

  • Contraindication in teens w/ substance abuse

  • Side effects: sedation, disinhibition, cognitive impairment, difficulty with discontinuation

  • Long-term use in GAD or severe chronic anxiety if other alternatives exhausted

Other medications for anxiety2

Other Medications for Anxiety

Guanfacine or Clonidine

  • No controlled studies for anxiety disorders

  • Consider w/ SSRI when anxiety w/ significant autonomic arousal and/or restlessness

  • Baseline EKG, BP and pulse monitoring

  • Severe rebound hypertension with abrupt discontinuation

  • Tourette’s, ADHD, Trichotillomania, other impulse-control disorders, Bipolar, PTSD


  • Consider for focused performance anxiety (No trials in youth)

Medications for comorbidity

Medications for Comorbidity

  • Depression: Impairment, SSRI, monitor suicidal risk, CBT (Fluoxetine recommended)

  • ADHD: First choice stimulants and beh tx. If stimulants exacerbate insomnia or anxiety, Atamoxetine second line, also Buproprion and Venlafaxine. Guanfacine or clonidine (get EKG) for hyperactivity/ impulsivity and sleep struggles.

  • Alcohol abuse: Caution against benzos

  • Bipolar disorder: SSRIs may exacerbate, but can be introduced at low doses once stable

Treatment of ptsd medications

Treatment of PTSD: Medications

  • Treat significant depression and anxiety

  • SSRI’s (Antidepressants)

    For anxiety, depression, core symptoms

  • Guanfacine or Clonidine

    For hyperarousal, impulsivity, startle

  • Antipsychotics (such as Risperidone)

    For dissociation, brief psychosis, severe aggression

    (monitor AIMS or DISCUS, glucose, weight)

  • Meds can reduce severity of symptoms so child can engage in therapy and exposures

Medications for comorbid autism spectrum disorders

Medications for Comorbid Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Consider SSRI’s when obsessive features, perseveration, rituals, anxiety, depression, irritability prominent

  • Guanfacine or Clonidine may assist with impulsivity, explosiveness, restlessness

  • Other meds such as antipsychotics and mood stabilizers may be used for aggression and severe symptoms

Case example mary

Case Example: Mary

GAD, Depession, Physical Trauma

Case example mary1

Case Example: Mary

  • 16 y.o. WF with recent back surgery due to lumbar fracture that did not heal, chronic GAD.

  • Major depression since surgery with high irritability, decreased appetite, sleep disturbance, anhedonia, hopelessness

  • GAD never identified before with perfectionism regarding grades, sports, cannot relax, very goal-focused, over organized, lists.

  • Verbally bullied in 5th-7th grade by female peers because she was “too sporty, did not wear make-up”. Switched schools. Has never recovered social activities since.

  • Very supportive parents, sibs, but patients feels mother “does not understand” her anxiety.

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents


  • Agitated depression acutely increasing over 2 weeks and emerging suicidal ideation: Started Zoloft and increased over one month to 100mg

  • Initiated relaxation with deep breathing and imagery with Mary and father

  • Between sessions received a call from mother Mary not practicing relaxation and more irritable with mother

  • Session: GAD severe. Mary feels she is failing therapy homework and mother does not understand anxiety

  • Discussed chronic communication issues between Mary and mother who does not have anxiety but is very organized and goal-oriented versus father who is anxious and less demanding

Mary plan


  • GAD severity now more apparent. Mary afraid to relax for even a moment.

  • Praise Mary for identifying her anxiety symptoms and frustrations with mother

  • Slow down pace of CBT relaxation module and/or examine thoughts first

  • Take time to focus Mary’s understanding of her severe GAD and impact of back problems, GAD, decreased social life on her functioning over several years

  • Work on communication between mother and Mary, and pursue further family treatment

  • Continue medication until maximized for Mary

  • Monitor for suicidal ideations with improvement

Mary highlights

Mary: Highlights

  • Consider severity in starting with CBT or CBT and meds

  • Pace of CBT depends on what patient can tolerate: emphasize success, not failure!

  • Family component may need to be considered early, even with adolescents

  • Accepting impact of illness may create temporary increase in symptoms, discuss with family (SI with depression)

Case example clarence

Case Example: Clarence

GAD, SAD, Social Phobia


Social skills deficit

Case example clarence history

Case Example: Clarence (history)

  • 8 year old boy with ADHD, referred for severe “sleep anxiety” and meets criteria for GAD, SAD, Social Phobia, OCD traits.

  • Anxiety became significant after robbery of family property 2 years ago: credit cards stolen. Some PTSD features.

  • Father travels often with job. Father with possible OCD traits, low frustration tolerance for Thomas. Thomas overly dependent on mother.

  • Anxiety at night sometimes makes it hard to even sleep well in mother’s room (no one resting in family)

  • ADHD, severe and LD impacting academic and social at school (irritating to other children)

  • Anxiety limits social activities: fearful of being away from mother, assertiveness skills and social skills poor (bullied by students at school)

Example clarence treatment

Example: Clarence (Treatment)

  • ADHD combined type interfered with CBT. Required numerous med trials responded to combination of Strattera, Adderall (XR and regular) and Guanfacine (appetite suppression, increased irritability, increased anxiety on various ADHD meds)

  • Various SSRI’s tried: tended to get hyperarousal, irritable on several with good results on Celexa.

  • Positive reinforcement chart set up with clear rewards and consequences.

  • Worked on power struggles and active ignoring.

  • Established team with mother, school, and therapist.

Example clarence treatment1

Example: Clarence (Treatment)

  • Relaxation: deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and imagery (light blue, beach scene)

  • Positive self-talk: fears other children think he is stupid, do not want him as a friend, want him to feel bad.

  • Fears of robbers breaking into house at night and killing him and family. Any sounds would trigger this. How likely? What else could sounds be? Safety of community? Alternative thoughts

  • Sytematic desensitization to move toward sleeping outside mother’s bed, in her room, in the hall, on floor in his room, in his bed.

  • Attending sports practice, parties with friends, having playdates at home and at friend’s house

Clarence treatment

Clarence (Treatment)

  • Social skills training and assertiveness training to address response to bullying along with coordination with school to monitor.

  • Learning meeting and greeting, how to treat play date, tolerating small frustrations with peers

  • Ignoring verbal bullying, responding with humor, monitoring reactions on face and body to potential bullies. Getting help from adults when needed.

  • Family treatment to address need for acceptance from father. Work on gaining competence versus dependence on mother.

  • New social and interpersonal challenges of adolescence

Clarence highlights

Clarence: Highlights

  • Treat predominant or most impairing symptoms first: comorbidity

  • Listen to family’s major concerns: “sleep anxiety”

  • Consider social functioning as an important outcome

Case example jimmy

Case example: Jimmy

Selective Mutism

Social Anxiety Disorder

Expanding safety zone

Expanding Safety zone

  • From clinic to school

    • Select transition agent(s) - parent, therapist, sibs, even classroom teacher

    • Select strategies

    • Select sequence of exposures

  • From home to school

    • Select transition agent(s) - parent, sibs, classmates, teacher

    • Select strategies

    • Select sequence of exposures

13 stages in speech emergence in school least to most

13 Stages in Speech Emergence in School (least to most)

  • C. Cunningham’s work; adapted by Kenny, Fung, Mendlowitz

    1: Complete mutism at school

    2: Participates nonverbally

    3: Speaks to parent at school (usually when teachers or students are absent)

    4: Peers see child speaking (but don’t hear)

    5: Peers overhear child speaking

    6: Speaks to Peer through Parent or Sib

    7: Speaks softly or whispers to one peer

13 stages in speech emergence in school cont d

13 Stages in Speech Emergence in School (cont’d)

8: Speaks to one peer w/ normal volume

9: Speaks softly or whispers to several peers

10: Speaks in normal voice to several peers

11: Speaks softly or whispers to teacher

12: Speaks in normal voice to teacher


Case example jimmy1

Case example: Jimmy

  • 4 1/2 yo male, living with parents, bilingual Spanish-English

  • Normal pregnancy, development

  • Shy temperament: SM since age 2.

  • Comorbidities: Social Phobia, Speech Articulation disorder

  • Family history of: GAD, Social Phobia, Depression, Alcohol Abuse, Speech therapy in father

Jimmy cont d

Jimmy (cont’d)

  • Regular pre-school

  • Stage 1-2 for speech emergence

  • Accepted by a few classmates, afraid of teacher

  • School felt he would “grow out of it”

Conversational visits

Conversational Visits

  • People to visit (family, neighbor, friend)

  • Times of day to visit (before school, recess, lunch, after school, evening)

  • Places to visit(private setting to classroom)

  • Types of activities to stimulate speech (games from home, computer, art, reading)

  • Make a table of above and rate the amount of comfortable speaking encouraged by each activity

Jimmy expanding safety zone from home to clinic

Jimmy - Expanding Safety Zone from Home to Clinic

  • CBT approach, adapted for young child

  • Positive sticker chart

  • Medication

    • CBT emphasis on behavioral (due to young age) with some use of superhero themes

    • Anxiety shrunk as super Jimmy grew stronger

    • Used play, drawings, and nature walks as medium of engagement

    • Deep breathing, beach imagery, petting stuffed animal, sound of shell to help with relaxation

    • Rewarded regularly, often for his efforts at home and in session. Rewarded for practicing and success with exposures.

Jimmy expanding safety zone to clinic continued

Jimmy- Expanding Safety Zone to Clinic Continued

  • Pt relieved that anxiety had a name and that he could conquer it (worry monster- big green blob). Attacked it in drawings on dry-erase board and puppet play

  • Individual to parallel play to cooperative play

  • Parents, brother, cousin in session

  • Described aloud Jimmy’s activities during play

  • Initiated Zoloft liquid at 5mg and eventually up to 30mg with significant improvement in nonverbal communication, initiating social interactions, whispering, and then speaking

  • Worked on eye contact, volume of speech, greeting skills, assertiveness skills. Angry expression hardest.

  • Practiced social skills with visits to office “neighbors” in the clinic

Jimmy expanding safety zone to school

Jimmy- Expanding Safety Zone to School

  • Reviewed various school environments for best “fit”. Decided to change schools based on structured social opportunities available

  • Psychoeducation with school team and parents

  • Set up brief, frequent play dates at home with peers from school with parents utilizing strategies & sequence used in therapy

  • Parents coached Jimmy on coping strategies - “belly breathing” when feeling anxious, to relax

Jimmy expanding safety zone to school continued

Jimmy- Expanding Safety Zone to School Continued

  • First: parent and Jimmy visit school playground

  • Then, parent and J visited classroom alone

  • Then, parent and J visited with cousin in classroom

  • Then parent, J, cousin, and teacher

  • Pt talking to cousin in classroom

  • Eventually speaking with teacher and classmates

  • Currently: Stage 13

    New focus: Initiating social interactions in crowded places

Jimmy highlights

Jimmy: Highlights

  • Psychoeducation for parents and educators very important

  • Treating parental anxiety and assisting with reactions of relatives, parents’ frustrations

  • Utilizing “Stages” approach coupled with CBT to conceptualize successive approximations & monitor tx progress

  • Aim to expand safety zone from home to school and from clinic to school by identifying transition agent(s), strategies, & sequence of exposures

Resources and references






References for parents teachers

References for Parents &Teachers

Helping Your Anxious Child (Rapee, Wignall, Spence, Cobham, 2008)

Keys to Parenting Your Anxious Child

(Manassis, 2008)

Freeing Your Child from Anxiety

(Chansky, 2004)

Freeing Your Child from OCD

(Chansky, 2001)

Helping Your Child with Selective Mutism (McHolm et al, 2005)

When Children Refuse School: Parent Workbook (Kearney & Albano, 2007)


References for children

References for Children

What To Do When You Worry Too Much (Huebner, 2005)

A Boy and a Bear: The Children’s Relaxation Book (Lori Lite, 1996)

Blink, Blink, Clop, Clop: Why Do We Do Things We Can't Stop? An OCD Storybook (Moritz & Jablonsky, 2001)

Talking Back to OCD (John March, 2006)

For children, teens and parents

What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid’s Guide to OCD (Huebner, 2007)


Resources for adolescents

Resources for Adolescents

My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic (Tompkins & Martinez, 2009)

Riding the Wave Workbook (Pincus, Ehrenreich & Spiegel, 2008) for adolescents with panic disorder

Anxiety Disorders (Connolly, Simpson & Petty, 2005) for middle & high school students to help them understand anxiety disorders and reduce stigma with stories and drawings from youth with anxiety.


References for clinicians

References for Clinicians

Treating Anxious Children and Adolescents (Rapee, Wignall, Hudson& Schniering, 2000)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Children: A Guide for the Community Practitioner (Manassis, 2009)

Master of Anxiety and Panic for Adolescents Riding the Wave, Therapist Guide (Pincus, Ehrenreich, Mattis (2008)

Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Anxiety Disorders (JAACAP 2007)


Cbt anxiety therapy manuals

CBT Anxiety Therapy Manuals

Coping Cat(Phillip Kendall)

and CAT (for adolescents)

How I Ran OCD Off My Land (John March)

Meeky Mouse Therapy Manual: CBT Program for Selective Mutism (D. Fung, A. Kenny & S. Mendlowitz, in press)

Social Effectiveness Training for Children (SET-C: Beidel & Morris) - for Social Phobia


Preschool cbt manual for ptsd

Preschool CBT Manual for PTSD


Available from Dr. Michael Scheeringa

[email protected]

Manual authors: M. Scheeringa MD,

J. Cohen MD and L. Amaya-Jackson MD



National Child Traumatic Stress Network;

American Academy of Child & Adolescent

Psychiatry (AACAP)

Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)

SM Group- Child Anxiety Network

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Obsessive Compulsive Foundation

Boston University anxiety clinic


More resources

MORE RESOURCES for adhd in children and adults for Child and adolescent bipolar foundation

Website for PMDC at UIC (pediatric mood disorders clinic) and RAINBOW program through at 312/996-7723



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